Misappropriation of science.

This is a representation of the periodic table. Click through for Web Elements: a comprehensive resource on the chemistry of the elements.
A periodic table from a screencap of webelements.com

The Periodic Table

The periodic table is a perfect example of truth and beauty and simplicity in nature. Invented by Dmitri Mendeleev, and published in 1869, it originated when Mendeleev realised he could arrange all 65 (then) known elements in order of increasing atomic mass, and add line breaks to form a table in which each element shared properties with others in the same column.  Mendeleev was Russian, so the elements are arranged top left to bottom right, but the table would emerge had he used any other direction of reading. The arrangement was so accurate in its simplicity that it enabled Mendeleev to predict the existence and properites of Germanium, Gallium and Scandium before their ‘actual’ discoveries.

Later, Moseley would demonstrate that Mendeleev had inadvertantly organised his table according to atomic number, not mass, which enabled Moseley to predict yet more elements based on gaps this left in the arrangement. The Periodic Table is just a graphical illustration of chemical elements, but it’s much much more than just a comprehensive list: the layout of the table enables it to be divided into columns (Groups) and rows (Periods) which each share trends and similarities in elemental properties. The Wikipedia page for the Periodic table demonstrates not just the periods and the groups, but blocks of varying shapes that cluster together elements of similar properties. The position of an element in the table predicts the properties that element has – determined just by atomic number.

This is all GCSE level chemistry. There are reasons why elements in certain positions have those properties, but that’s not important. What’s important is atomic number (the number of protons in the atom) of an element predicts that element’s properties in a way that the Periodic tables illustrates simply and elegantly.

That’s the periodic table.

This, posted by Crispian Jago at Blogspot, is not a periodic table. It’s a list of things Crispian Jago thinks are nonsense, sorted roughly into groups and plonked onto the same layout, ont0 which he (?) has assigned something called a ‘WOO number’. I’ve no idea what ‘woo’ is supposed to be, but I’ve heard it bandied about as a noun among the Skeptic community* before, presumably to mean “things I disagree with.” It’s enough to make me wish to reclaim the verb, honestly. I think Bing needs a good wooing.

There are blocks of ‘Cryptozoology’, ‘Religion’, ‘Extraterrestrial’ and the like but beyond that very superficial sorting, there’s absolutely no effort to even think about what the periodic table represents. No thought to groups, to periods, to… well, anything, really. I mean, if there’s a point beyond “everyone who disagrees with me can be lumped in together with everyone else who disagrees with me!” then feel free to point it out to me.

But Debi, you may be saying, surely you’re just throwing a hissy fit because he’s stuck Buddism in, called it a religion, and given it a higher ‘WOO’ number than Christianity? Nah, dude, whatever. It’s not worth getting into. You can check the comments for the usual ‘I heard it’s got reincarnation and gods and stuff, therefore it MUST be a religion!’ schtick (with bonus “Wikipedia says it’s a religion”). I’m not a Dharma teacher, I’m a science communicator, and I’m more concerned with the misappropriation of a scientific concept (and as a writer, the abuse of symbolism and metaphor) than I am with the content.

(But let’s take a second to marvel at the implications of reducing the whole of “traditional Chinese medicine” into one ‘element’)

If you want someone commenting on the content, try Andrew, who says:

…I can see two possible ways that list was put together:
Possibility a – The author has, himself, researched into all these categories, read all the relevant literature, looked at the arguments used by the most prominent advocates of those beliefs/hypotheses/ideas, checked their data, and somehow come to the conclusion that only those things that are attacked regularly by Ben Goldacre, Richard Dawkins and other prominent ‘skeptics’ are irrational nonsense or
Possibility b – He has chosen a list that, within the group of people he wishes to associate with, is completely uncontroversial, a list endorsed by the alpha males of his group, without actually thinking rationally about any of it.

Andrew challenges the rationality of anyone who can’t pick one of Crispian’s list of ‘woo’ and defend it. I’d like to extend that invitation to you guys; anyone who wants to should feel welcome to do that on the comments of his entry or here (wherever this post is duplicated), because I think he’s very very right. Of course, Andrew and I don’t agree on the subjects in question –  he thinks memetics should be tucked in next to Scientology and to me, the inheritance of ideas is so self evident it’d be like defending the existence of the milkman. But we do agree on one thing: that just making a list of ‘things I disagree with (and you should too)’, pasting it onto an appropriated and entirely unrelated illustration, and calling it humour.

I think I’m well and truly done with this ‘movement’.

*honestly sceptical people can be distinguished from Skeptics, at least in the UK, by their ability to spell ‘sceptic’. In the USA, and anywhere sharing the spelling conventions, the task is harder.

This entry was posted in Natural Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Misappropriation of science.

  1. I particularly like the way he’s manually deleted the trackbacks your post and mine left – obviously couldn’t be doing with any criticism…

    • Julia says:

      Oh nuts, what I meant to do was to quote:

      “*honestly sceptical people can be distinguished from Skeptics, at least in the UK, by their ability to spell ‘sceptic’.”

      And then nod vigorously. But well done on the rest of it too.

  2. Google says:

    I tend not to leave many comments, but i did some searching and wound up here Misappropriation of science.
    Thagomizer.net Thagomizer.net. And I do
    have 2 questions for you if it’s allright.

    Could it be only me or does it look like some of the responses appear like they are coming
    from brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional online social sites, I’d like to follow everything new you have to post.
    Could you list of every one of your communal sites like your Facebook
    page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *